Recently, I heard a great quote: “The only people with no problems are in the cemetery”. Everyone has problems, some are big, others are small, ‘first-world problems’. If you are alive, then you are going to have problems.
The great thing about problems is they challenge us, and they force us to reach outside our comfort zone and find solutions. And that’s a wonderful problem to have. A problem that forces us to grow, become stronger and consequently better is a blessing.
The real issue here is how you handle your problems. You can, of course, put your head in the sand and pretend they are not there, but if you are dealing with something like a health issue, that wouldn’t be a wise move. Almost all diseases in the world today are treatable if caught early. The sooner a health problem is treated, the more likely you will recover, which is true about all our problems. The sooner you address them, the simpler and easier they will be to resolve.
Most of our productivity and time management problems have simple solutions. Email overload is a classic example. If you are receiving more emails per day than you can manage, you can do several things to rectify the problem. You could become more strategic on what emails you allow into your inbox. Unsubscribe to newsletters, filter out emails you are CC’d on and have them go to a separate folder for reading later when you have time, and sending fewer emails in the first place.
If you are struggling to get your focused work done because you have coworkers and clients demanding your attention all day, you can reach out to those people and explain there will be times when you are unavailable. When you communicate your availability upfront, people are more likely to respect your time.
Recently, I had a small software problem with my car, I tried calling my contact at the service centre, and he did not reply. But he called me back thirty minutes later. Problem sorted. I was not annoyed, I know he is managing many customers, and he told me up-front there would be times he would not be able to answer my call immediately but would always get back to me the same day. And in the six months I have had the car, he has always responded to my calls within an hour or so.
My service contact could have created many problems for himself had he told me he would always be available. Instead, he promised to get back to me within the day. A case of under-promising and over-delivering brilliantly executed.
There are many problems we face where we overthink things, and this prevents us from acting. We end up not dealing with them, and they quickly spiral into something else completely.
If you have a deadline for an important project in three days, and you are nowhere near completing it, running around worrying about it will not complete the project. You have 72 hours, put everything else on hold and focus all your attention on completing the project. Reach out to your clients, colleagues and bosses and explain the situation — Tell them you will not be available for a few days and put all your energy and effort into delivering the project on time.
Very few people will be upset or annoyed. Even the most small-minded, micromanaging boss will respect you for putting all your efforts into completing the project. (If you don’t believe me, try it one day)
I love problems, and it’s one reason I enjoy coaching people with their time management and productivity issues. I get to help people develop solutions to what often seem insurmountable problems. With most time management and productivity problems, the source is often overly complex systems or trying to follow a productivity system designed for a working method that no longer exists.
What are you trying to achieve?
With time management problems, the simple solution begins with the question: what are you trying to achieve? If the answer is having time to study for a master’s degree, you then decide how much time you will require. Once you know this, open your calendar and schedule that time on your calendar.
If you cannot find the time because you are committed to something else, you need to decide which of the activities are the bigger priority. You can’t do both, and you cannot change the amount of time you have each day. So, the solution is to pick one. There’s no use complaining about your lack of time. We all have the same amount of time. The only thing you can control is what you do with the time you have available.
If you are working a job that does not allow you time for self-study perhaps because of the time it takes to commute to and from your work, the question is, which is the bigger priority? If getting your master’s degree is more important to you than whom you work for, change your job or talk to your boss about working remotely.
There are always simple solutions. They may not be easy to execute, but that’s part of the challenge. Finding the simple solution and doing whatever it takes to carry through that solution will ultimately make you better and stronger.
At the start of 2020, I planned to reduce the number of English classes I was teaching to focus more on my online courses and coaching programmes. I took the easy route and decided to allow my classes to end organically. It would take longer, but it would be easier. The problem was this was the same plan I had for 2019, and it did not happen. But it was an easier solution.
The harder — and simpler — solution was to inform all my students that I would no longer be teaching English. It was simpler, but it would also involve many phone calls, meetings and discomfort having to say “no” to people I had worked with for five or more years.
In the end, the COVID-19 pandemic forced me into the simpler, but more uncomfortable solution. By the end of July, I had achieved my goal. Looking back now, I realised had I taken the simpler, but harder solution, I could have achieved my goal in July 2019. I overthought the problem and made it continue a lot longer than it needed to.
I will end with a common task management issue. Often we want to have all our projects and goals in one app. Sounds like a simple solution, on the surface. The problem is managing all your projects and goals in one task manager creates a lot of tasks that bubble up into your daily task list. It causes a lot of important tasks, getting lost and forgotten about. It also means a lot of time reviewing each of those projects every week. And if you are not reviewing your projects weekly, tasks get lost, and project milestones get missed. It’s a terrible solution that creates more problems than is necessary.
Instead, use a task manager for what it is meant to do — a place to manage your tasks. Keep it simple; when does a task need doing? This week? Next week? Next month? That’s all you need to do. Whatever needs doing next week, does not need to concern you this week — you can consider those tasks when you do your weekly planning session at the end of this week.
And for your projects and goals? Use a notes app. You have far more freedom to manage those there. You can add screenshots, links, paragraphs from important emails and meeting notes all in one place — things you cannot do in a task manager.
Problems do not need to throw you off your plans. All you need to do is stop, ask what you want the outcome to be and then do whatever it takes to accomplish that outcome.
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My purpose is to help as many people as I can live the lives they desire. To help people find happiness and become better organised and more productive so they can do more of the important things in life.
If you would like to learn more about the work I do, and how I can help you become better organised and more productive, you can visit my website or say hello on Twitter, YouTube or Facebook and subscribe to my weekly newsletter right here.